Chatting with director Ben Wheatley on the phone in the midst of his press junket for “High-Rise” gave me a brief insight of who he is. He gives a lot of thought to the questions you ask him (even if he’s been asked a similar question dozens of times by reporters). He really loves his wife (see answer to final question). And he really likes directing films.
Interview with Ben Wheatley, promoting his film “High Rise”:
Matthew Toffolo: When did you first read the novel HIGH-RISE? Did you ever imagine that you would be the director of the film version.
Ben Wheatley: I first read the book when I was 16 years old. It stuck with me. Directing the film version, or any film in general, was the farthest thing on my mind then. Directing came later in my life.
MT: Tell us about your collaboration with screenwriter Amy Jump. From developing the script to editing the film together.
BW: She wrote the script and then passed it to me. There was no conversation. I gave her zero notes and zero feedback after I read it. I took the script and began the process of making the film. She knows me and what I’m capable of. And she knows the budget. So it was a seamless handoff.
After the film ended, we began to edit the film together.
MT: Was she on set? Did she watch the dailies?
BW: No. She first saw the footage when we began editing.
MT: How does your editing relationship work? I can’t think of another film where the writer and director edited the film together?
BW: I operate the machine, I guess like a traditional editor. She sits and has a conversation with me about what moment we’re piecing together.
Even with the credits in the film, we share the first title together. We are equal collaborators. We each have a job to do and our jobs are equally important.
MT: Producer Jeremy Thomas has wanted to make this film for over 30 years. What was his contribution on the film?
BW: He’s chafed that it’s completed. We (Amy and I) actually went to him, he didn’t come to us. We knew he had the rights to the novel and we were interested in doing it. We had no idea how long he was trying to get it made. From the day we spoke with him for the first time to the final product, it was about two years.
Amy’s weird in that she doesn’t like to take money to write. She told him , “I’ll write the script on spec. If you like it, then let’s do it. If you don’t, no problem.”
She did that, wrote the script and he did the rest to have it made.
MT: The film has a striking Production Design. How was your working relationship with Production Designer Mark Tildesley?
BW: I storyboarded the entire film. We drew together to set up certain scenes in pre-production and had a good relationship. We made a low budget film look expensive. We were very meticulous in how we set up each scene.
PHOTO: Tom Hiddleston stars in HIGH-RISE
MT: The film has a very claustrophobic feel to it. Like we’re also trapped inside of this building and can’t get out. Was that your cinematic intention?
BW: The general sense of any movie is to wrap the audience in the film. So I wanted the audience inside that building relating to the characters. Yes, that was my intention.
MT: You like to present themes of the class war system in all of your films….
BW: Yes. The class system is all around all of us. Class is not just about money. It’s about the pressures of succeeding. And the misery of not succeeding. This around all of us, no matter what society we live in. I think everybody has issues with class, no matter what country you live in.
MT: What film have you seen the most times in your life?
BW: Blade Runner. I’ve seen it 30-40 times.
MT: Who would you love to have dinner with, dead or alive?
BW: My wife. It’s miserable being away from home. I miss her. (Ben’s wife is Amy Jump, the writer/editor of High-Rise.)
MT: Can you give us a sneak peak of your next film “Free Fire”?
BW: It’s set in America, but the process of making it has been the same as before. It’s a genre action/crime film, so it was fun to make. The film is wrapped and edited and ready to be released. So stay tuned! It stars Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Sharlto Copley, and Armie Hammer.
Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.